Pike St review: A storm threatens Manhattan – and a family

Dublin Theatre Festival: Nilaja Sun plays three generations of characters with ease

Pike St: Nilaja Sun portrays life in a New York tenement. Photograph: Teresa Castracane

Pike St: Nilaja Sun portrays life in a New York tenement. Photograph: Teresa Castracane

 

PIKE ST

Smock Alley Theatre
★★★☆☆
Pike Street begins with an invitation. “Come on in,” its writer and performer, Nilaja Sun, implores under the glare of full house lights. She stretches her arms wide in a warm gesture of embrace. Guiding the audience through a ritual exercise of relaxation, she becomes Evelyn, a single mother and energy healer determined to banish bad feeling from the room as she provides us with a first glimpse of life inside a tenement on Pike Street in Manhattan.

Evelyn’s story is structured by a coming storm. A hurricane is set to hit New York, and her household is more vulnerable than most. Her teenage daughter, Candi, is profoundly disabled and needs a respirator and dialysis machine to survive. If the electricity goes, her life will be in danger. Conflict on Pike Street, however, is not dominated by external forces. Evelyn’s war-hero brother, Mani, has just returned from Iraq showing signs of PTSD, while their father’s romantic life is filled with as much drama (and sex) as a soap opera.

Nilaja Sun shows us life on Pike Street in its most intimate details: the smell of a pickle cart, the run-down subway stop, the ambition of young children stifled by circumstance

Under the considered direction of Ron Russell, Sun plays all these characters and more with physical and vocal ease, whether that is shrinking into stooped shoulders as the larger-than-life Papi, shuffling and squinting as an elderly neighbour, Mrs Applebaum, or expanding her chest to share the swagger of Mani’s old friend Ty. Through their eyes Sun shows us the diversity of life on Pike Street in its most intimate details: the smell of a pickle cart, the run-down subway stop, the ambition of young children stifled by circumstance.

Perhaps this is why the dramatic ending feels so unsatisfactory, as Sun reaches into the realm of something beyond serendipity for the transformation she so wishes for her characters. Or perhaps what she really wishes for them is a miracle.

Runs until Sunday, October 6th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival

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